Thursday, April 17, 2014

Wildflowers and Rangelands - and Grazing Animals

I believe these are Blue Dicks( Dichelostemma pulchellum)

I know this is a Mariposa Tulip- just not sure which one!

Seep-spring Monkey Flower (Mimulus guttatus) - I think!

Pretty sure this is a Delphinium of some sort - and I think
it's poisonous, too.  Good think there's plenty of other
plants for our sheep to graze!

I've always called this White Brodiaea, but I think that's
incorrect.  Anyone know what it is?

California Brodiaea

Lobb's Poppy?  It's smaller than a California Poppy.
In 7th and 8th grade, I had a wonderful science teacher - Mr. Atkins.  During my 8th grade year, I got to take his ecology class - we broke into teams and carefully analyzed a small plot of land at Curtis Creek School in Tuolumne County.  Each plot had been studied by classes before ours - and (I hope) would be studied for years after we graduated.  We documented the species of plants and animals that lived on or traveled through our plots.  We took measurements of things like tree diameter and (I remember this one distinctly) the width of a crack in a small boulder on our plot.  We compared our findings with those of the students preceding us.  Our plot featured a bright yellow flower that no one before us had been able to identify.  I found it in my wildflower field guide - it was woolly sunflower (Eriophyllum lanatum).

Mr. Atkins class gave me a profound appreciation for plants in general and native wildflowers in particular.  During my 8th grade and early high school years, I made my own plant press and collected samples of all of the wildflowers that I could find on the property where we lived along Sullivan Creek east of Sonora.  Somewhere, I'm sure, my parents still have my collection.

In the late 1990s, I had the opportunity to serve as the first executive director of the California Rangeland Trust, a statewide land trust established by the California Cattlemen's Association to protect privately owned rangelands from development.  During my tenure with CRT, we were approached by the American Lands Conservancy to help them conserve the Bear Valley Ranch in the Coast Range west of the town of Williams.  This particular Bear Valley was known all over the world for it's wildflower displays.  ALC initially thought that grazing was a threat to the flowers and decided to remove grazing from the ranch.  No cows, however, soon meant no wildflowers - seems the grazing animals were an integral part of managing these rangelands for multiple benefits (including native flora).  I am still proud to have been part of conserving the Bear Valley Ranch for grazing and for it's habitat values.

It's been 33 years since I took Mr. Atkins' ecology class - and I still get a thril from finding new wildflowers - and from seeing old familiar ones.  Today, as I built a new paddock for our sheep, I took a few minutes to document the native wildflowers in this new paddock.  We grazed these rangelands about 50 days ago.  Even in our drought conditions, these flowers have bloomed and are reproducing.  I'm always amazed by the resiliency and interdependence between herbivory (grazing) and plant lifecycles.  Thanks, Mr. Atkins, for lighting that spark!

Note: I hope my botanist friends will correct the identifications I've made of these flowers!  I'm working from an older field guide  - and I'm sheepherder, after all!

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